It's Just Business

We’ve had some big news in the design industry over the last few weeks, starting with High Point and North Carolina's HB2 bill, which revokes the protection of many in the design community. Leaders like Mitchell Gold of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, one of the most prominent furniture makers in the country and leadership at Architectural Digest have openly taken a stand against it. Gold called on Governor Pat McCrory to repeal the bill and AD announced that they are cancelling their annual cocktail party, “as a celebration no longer feels appropriate.” Then shockingly, Pritzer-prized winning architect, Dame Zaha Hadid died. The greatest woman architect in the world and among the greatest architects of all time, she was a visionary, painter, furniture designer, artist and leader. “As a woman, I’m expected to want everything to be nice, and to be nice myself,” she told the Guardian. “A very English thing. I don't design nice buildings - I don't like them. I like architecture to have some raw, vital, earthy quality.”

Hadid spoke her mind and didn’t filter her displeasure, often to the detriment of her public image. “I’m a woman, which is a problem to many people. I’m a foreigner, another problem. And I do work, which is not normative, which is not what they expect. Together, it becomes difficult.” The media often portrayed her as an abrasive, jet-set diva, but in person, to those she cared for, or knew from her youth, she was different. “It has changed a lot — 30 years ago people thought women couldn’t make a building. That idea has now gone.”

Finally, it was announced that luxury bath and kitchen brand Waterworks will be acquired by Restoration Hardware (RH) for $117 million. Threads in online designers’ groups have been buzzing about whether or not there is true synergy between the brands, saying that the quality of RH furniture has slipped in recent years as they expand. RH also recently introduced a 25% discount membership program to its customers, which effectively eliminated any trade incentive to sell product. Although it’s interesting that the company is choosing not to use designers as their brand ambassadors, or to help in quality-assurance research, true design pros aren’t the market they’re going after.

“It’s just business,” is a phrase is used a lot by people in the quest for dollars and cents. The fact that we’re doing business is sometimes used as a way to cancel obligations, quash emotion, drive sharp bargains, compete, or make decisions that are socially and economically unconscious. Business is about money, doing more and making more.

But business is also about relationships and relationships are about people, messy, emotional, complicated, changeable human beings. The reality is that in our digital world, our increasingly transparent world, where your actions, the quality of your products and your values are visible, whether it’s on Facebook, Instagram or in an email, you can’t hide who you’re being. More than ever business is really about leadership and leadership is personal, deeply personal. Or as Hadid said, “You have to really believe not only in yourself; you have to believe that the world is actually worth your sacrifices.”

For Gold, HB2 is about “what if you’re a fifteen-year-old kid, you’re struggling with your sexual orientation, your gender identity, and now on the news you have to see politicians, people you should be looking up to, the governor, you have to see these people talk about how you are broken; how you are not fit to use the restroom that you want and have that personal dignity; how you aren’t protected in the workplace…”

[bctt tweet="More than ever business is really about leadership and leadership is personal, deeply personal." username="mebydesigntv"]

For me it’s about taking a stand for my gay best friend and his husband, about empowering creative people, usually women, to stop worrying about what other people think of the way they are designing the world. Express yourself unabashedly, bravely and fiercely, why not? Life. Is. Short. It’s about holding myself accountable to my vision and values and not making choices that are out of alignment in the name of earning money, as if somehow building wealth, doing business and being in alignment are mutually exclusive. They are not.

It is my belief that your personal brand expresses your soul at the deepest level and the way you do business must be congruent with your values and beliefs. It requires listening to yourself and taking action. Whatever side of the arguments you fall on, be true. Your influence, your voice and your choices will contribute to the way the design industry leads going forward.